VOL. 132 | NO. 75 | Friday, April 14, 2017
The Press Box
The Press Box: For Tigers Basketball, No Easy Way Forward
By Don Wade
Questions – and to the extent possible – answers about the reeling University of Memphis basketball program.
Q: Is this as simple as athletic director Tom Bowen and President M. David Rudd making a more than $15 million five-year mistake in hiring Tubby Smith?
A: The easiest answer is yes. But only because Smith inherited Keelon Lawson, father to Dedric and K.J., on his staff, and erred by demoting the father and embarrassing him.
In a “normal” situation, the season probably plays out differently and we aren’t sitting here with Dedric and K.J. gone to the University of Kansas and Markel Crawford and three others also transferring.
Some people believe Tubby should have happily kissed Keelon’s ring because of the two sons on the team and the fact he has two others that are Division 1 prospects. And it makes sense in the practical/sleazy reality of 2017 college basketball. I do get it.
It also discounts the fact that Tubby Smith has earned his way in the sport and Keelon, no matter how you slice it, is a schemer riding on his kids’ backs.
Q: Yeah, but Tubby knew the Lawsons were a package deal. And the story going around is that Bowen promised Keelon he would remain an assistant under the new coach. And then that didn’t happen. So isn’t the fault with Tubby, and Bowen and Rudd?
A: My sources tell me that, yes, Keelon was promised he would remain an assistant. What’s unknown is what level of communication there was between all the parties after Smith was hired. At minimum, Tubby should have figured Keelon would not enjoy being treated persona non grata. Nothing tells you that you don’t matter like the team bus taking off without you and leaving you in a Philadelphia hotel lobby like some schmuck.
Q: So recruiting isn’t going well and there are a lot of scholarship holes to fill, right?
A: Put it this way: Right now, every scholarship player on Tubby’s roster with Division 1 experience – Jeremiah Martin and Jimario Rivers – could drive themselves to games in a Smart Fortwo car.
Q: How are they doing with local high school players in the next few classes?
A: Those more in the know then I am paint a very bleak picture, one that indicates Smith’s staff went from disconnected to, in recent days, even distrusted.
Q: But there are incoming Juco players, can’t they help in the short-term?
A: Sure, every bit as much as NBA 10-day contract guys.
Q: So what’s the way out of this? Are you saying there isn’t a way out unless they get rid of Tubby?
A: There are some hard financial realities, including that football now brings in more revenue than basketball and football operates at a deficit. Remember, this is why Josh Pastner stayed as long as he did. The university did not have the money to make him go away.
Q: I remember seeing Phil Knight, the Nike guy, cutting down the net when Oregon made the Final Four this year. Does Memphis have a Phil Knight?
A: Ah, wondered when you’d come around to the bailout booster. Less than four years ago, former Tigers guard Bill Laurie and his wife, Nancy Walton Laurie (a Wal-Mart heiress), gave the U of M athletic department $10 million. It was a record gift.
Q: Geez, I’m depressed. Any advice?
A: Yep, Friday Night Stripes, April 14, Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Free admission. Kickoff’s at 7.
You should go.
And take some other hurting Tiger basketball fans with you.
Don Wade’s column appears in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.